Cal Thomas: Avoid clichés

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, January 1st, 2019. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up, Cal Thomas suggests a more thoughtful approach to words in the new year.

CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?” asked Professor Henry Higgins in the musical My Fair Lady. It’s a good question for Americans, especially millennials.

On a recent flight two young women sat behind me, chattering away. In just one minute I counted 16 “likes” and “you knows” from just one of them.

It went this way: “And then she was like, and then he was like, and I was like, you know.”

As an adverb, “like” means nearly, closely or approximately, as in “the experience was like jumping off a high diving board.” As for “you know,” if the person already knows what you are telling them, why tell them?

These are verbal crutches, used to replace common English usage. They are the language of a generation that cannot speak well and sometimes struggles to think rationally.

Cliches were once mostly used by young people and inexperienced writers. Today, they have crept into the language of people who should know better. These cliches include “cautiously optimistic” and “needless to say.” Why bother to say it?

Politicians love cliches and other words and phrases that often serve as smokescreens to fool the public. “The American people” is a favorite, as if all Americans think alike. “We can’t keep spending as if there is no tomorrow” is another. So if we stop spending, will tomorrow come? Or is it like Groundhog Day when we will have six more weeks of winter whether or not the rodent sees his shadow?

Don’t get me started on TV hosts and reporters. “As you can see,” they often say. Yes, we can. That’s because it’s called television. It’s not radio, OK? It has pictures. “Shot in the encounter” was a favorite of a former news director at a TV station where I worked. We wondered where one could find the encounter on one’s anatomy? “Rushed to the hospital” was another of his favorites. Why not “taken” or “driven?”

The point is to learn English as a means of expressing ourselves that shows we didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. That’s a deliberate use of cliche. What’s the point of speaking English if it can’t be properly spoken and understood?

Over Christmas I listened to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas reading his brilliant “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” The delight of words, well-chosen and beautifully spoken, was thrilling and captivating. He makes the listener want to listen, as opposed to wishing to plug one’s ears when assaulted with “like” and “you know.”

“One common language I’m afraid they’ll never get,” lamented Henry Higgins. Could one of our resolutions for 20-19 be to speak better English?

For WORLD Radio, I’m Cal Thomas.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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